September 30, 2023

‘You have to be on time’

Novak Djokovic n(R) Cameron Norrie (L) - Cameron Norrie reopens row Novak Djokovic:

Novak Djokovic n(R) Cameron Norrie (L) – Cameron Norrie reopens row Novak Djokovic: ‘You have to show up on time’ – Reuters/Aleksandra Szmigiel

British No. 1 Cameron Norrie has spoken openly about his ill-tempered meeting with Novak Djokovic in Rome two weeks ago, describing the Serb’s late arrival on court as something “I’ve never seen from a player”.

At their fourth round meeting in Rome on May 16, Djokovic opted for extra time on the physio bench after making some practice adjustments, thus arriving more than 10 minutes after the scheduled 11am start.

To further frustrate Norrie, Djokovic never apologized for the delay. Telegraph Sport understands that Djokovic was fined for being late and Norrie was furious at the time at what he perceived as a disrespect.

This led to a tense encounter where Norrie hit Djokovic on the back of the ankle with a thoroughbred overhead smash. After the match – which Norrie lost 6-3, 6-4 – Djokovic complained about his opponent’s behavior, saying “He can take a medical time out.”

He may hit a player. He gets to say ‘Come on’ to the face more or less every point from the first game. [But] Those are the things that we players in the dressing room know is not fair play.”

But Norrie defended himself this week in Paris, insisting that “regardless of whether it’s a tennis match or not, you’re on time for whatever it is. “He wanted a little more time on the physio bed and the game was scheduled for 11am. And we walked out maybe 11, 12, 13 [minutes late]”I don’t think he saw a problem with that,” said Norrie.

“He never said anything to me. And he never apologized. I asked [the officials]: “Was that okay to do that?” They said, ‘Yeah, it’s within the rules. After 15 minutes he is given notice of default.’ I said, “Okay.” And I continued to warm up. I’ve never seen that before, but I think it’s within the rules of what they said.”

Norrie, one of the more jovial characters in the locker room, still tends to brim when he feels disrespected. For example, he has sometimes complained about getting second-rate judicial assignments.

Coincidentally, Norrie was then involved in another altercation on Monday at Roland Garros. Early in his five-set win over Benoit Paire, he was awarded a point for interference. This penalty is usually reserved for players shouting “Come on!” in the middle of a meeting, though the mics on Court Suzanne Lenglen only picked up a slightly longer growl. Later, Norrie told reporters that “for him [the chair umpire] to get involved in that was absurd.

‘I’m just really excited to win every point’

Getting back to Roman row, Norrie said he hadn’t known where Djokovic was standing (in the middle of the field, with his back to him) when he landed the offensive smash. As for his celebrations after the rally, which Djokovic had complained about being “in the face”, he seemed genuinely baffled.

“In all sports, I love to see players compete and really get up for the games and really want to win,” said Norrie. “I compete as hard as I can. I’m not trying to distract the other man. I’m really just pumped to win every point I can. This is the only time anyone has had a problem with it.

“I didn’t think I was in his face at all,” Norrie added. “I think if anyone knows me, I’m pretty loud in some games. For me it was a normal tennis match. I felt my hip a little and took medical time out. It’s within the rules. And if he has to go to physio for 10 minutes and it helped him, I think that’s within the rules. I didn’t know the rules, but now I do. It’s OK. But I’m usually a pretty punctual guy. I can’t really have much to do with it.”

After once again outperforming his compatriots to become the last Briton to hit a slam, Norrie will continue his French Open campaign against Frenchman Lucas Pouille on Wednesday.

This is another interesting draw as Pouille has been one of the human interest stories of this tournament. A former top-10 player, he underwent elbow surgery in 2020 and subsequently fell into depression and alcoholism. Now restored to better health and trying to rebuild his career, Pouille became the lowest ranked player [at No 675] to win a game at Roland Garros in ten years when he defeated Jurij Rodionov on Sunday.

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